A Christian minister testified that he was involved in decades-long efforts to influence the Supreme Court: 'We pushed the boundaries of Christian ethics'

Supreme Court
Nadine Seiler attends a rally for voting rights while the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the Moore v. Harper case December 7, 2022.Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • An evangelical Christian minister testified he was involved in an effort to influence Supreme Court justices' thinking.

  • Robert Schenck told a congressional panel that he gained advance knowledge of a 2014 Supreme Court ruling.

  • Democrats are pushing for a bill that would require the justices to establish a code of conduct.

An evangelical Christian minister testified before a congressional panel on Thursday that he had been involved in an effort for nearly two decades to influence some of the Supreme Court's conservative justices.

Robert Schenck, a former anti-abortion activist, told the House Judiciary Committee that he had engaged in prayer sessions with some of the court's conservative justices, recruited "stealth missionaries" to build relationships with those justices, and learned the outcome of a closely watched 2014 Supreme Court case before it was released.

"I believe we pushed the boundaries of Christian ethics and comprised the high court's promise to administer equal justice," Schenck said. "In one instance, Justice Thomas commended me, saying something like, keep up what you're doing, it's making a difference."

Thursday's hearing, titled "Undue Influence: Operation Higher Court and Politicking at SCOTUS," came after Schenck's allegations were recently reported in Politico, Rolling Stone and The New York Times.

The New York Times report centered on Schenck's claims that he gained advanced knowledge of the outcome of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, a case concerning religious rights and reproductive health. In an opinion by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, the 5-4 majority ruled that paying for insurance that covered contraception violated the religious freedoms of privately held, for-profit companies.

Schneck said he was tipped off about the decision at least three weeks in advance by Gayle Wright, who with her husband Donald, were among the "stealth missionaries" Schneck helped recruit. The couple were informed of the decision during a dinner with Alito, Schneck said. Alito and Gayle Wright have denied the allegations.

The allegations have prompted renewed calls from Democratic lawmakers for the Supreme Court justices to abide by an ethics code. The justices, unlike lower federal court judges, are not bound by a code of conduct and have not adopted their own.

"The court either cannot, or will not, do what is in its own best interest," Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, who's leading a bill that would establish an enforceable code of conduct for the justices, said during a House Judiciary Committee hearing. "Therefore, Congress must step in."

The legislation, called the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act, aims to increase transparency and promote accountability for the justices by requiring them to write and enforce a code of conduct and adhere to financial disclosures of gifts and income they receive from outside parties.

Critics have raised doubts about Schneck's allegations. During Thursday's hearing, another witness, lawyer Mark Paoletta, slammed Schneck and said his claims are baseless. Republicans on the committee, including ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, also scrutinized Schneck's comments.

"I don't believe a thing Mr. Schneck says," Paoletta, a former clerk for Justice Thomas, told the committee.

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